You just have to feel sorry for them, don’t you?

October 17, 2011



Who? What? Not being the most alert morning person, I had to ask what my female colleague (let’s call her The Mammy) was talking about. “You know those women, the ones married to their jobs, who don’t have children; most of them don’t even have husbands, you know – that kind of person. You just have to feel sorry for them, don’t you?”

It turns out The Mammy had just spent the weekend away with a friend of hers whose “career high-flyer”, non-married, non-mother status had challenged The Mammy’s worldview and erupted vitriolically into my morning. Her “review” of her friend and her lifestyle continued and none of it was complimentary.

The Mammy has just turned 40, has two kids, is married and living in Dublin 4, thinks Cath Kidston and Orla Kiely epitomise the ultimate in “good taste”, and although she currently works, she openly plans to give up to become a “lady who lunches” as soon as her husband’s salary permits. Spend more than two minutes in her presence and you will have heard the minutiae of Poppy and Charles’ development from potty training and their “darling first little words”, to progress at colouring between the lines and how much more advanced they are for their age than any other child. I don’t intentionally portray a stereotype – if I didn’t see it daily with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it either. But, trust me, she’s every bit The Mammy I describe.

I’m from a post-feminist era where young girls were told they could “have it all” – career, relationship, success, children, hobbies, glamour – the lot. In spite of this positive spin, my own view has always been that “having it all” isn’t necessarily all it’s portrayed as. Common sense tells me that for every choice you make, there’s a consequence and, choosing one life path over another automatically limits other options. Some of the time, this can pit children and career against each other. Certainly, these choices are not mutually exclusive but often, the vocal Mammys demonise the childless choice.

I believe that the more accurate post-feminist interpretation of “having it all” is having the right to have the full range of life choices open to you some of which, particularly around home life and career, were formerly only available to men. With this in mind, my approach to life is very much live and let live. Make whatever choice you want by all means, I’ll fight for your right for this with huge passion and dedication. But, don’t expect everyone to agree that yours is the only valid or worthwhile choice available.

To be fair, and since I painted a picture of The Mammy, I need to add to this mix some detail about my own life choices. I’m ambitious and career-driven and, from the time I was a teenager, I identified with strong role models, both male and female, who were successful, intellectual and work-oriented. While none of this precludes becoming a mother, for me personally, I’m not even the slightest bit interested in having children now or in the future. That’s me and they are my choices.

In terms of the impact of this choice, when I found myself in a serious, long-term relationship with the man who has recently become my husband it inevitably factored in. I had to be both true to myself and fair to him. If he wanted kids I was not the woman for him – you can’t “kind of” have kids! The same way we talked about our values, hopes and fears about the future and what we wanted from our lives together, we also talked about this and, on the point of having (or not having) children, were in agreement. For our relationship to work, we had to be.

Putting economic necessity aside – which for most of us is the real concern and sees mothers and non-mothers alike work because they have to – it’s also the case that we’re all called on to support and celebrate a woman’s right to have children and simultaneously work. Even the briefest of online searches will show numerous back to work schemes and calls for employers to support mothers’ return to the workforce. Look at the direction social policy has taken in the last decade and you can’t be left with any doubt but that enabling women to choose motherhood alongside work has been a key priority for successive Governments. All of which is fine with me, as the daughter of a working Mom, I’m behind that.

But, far from societal equality, there is no such support or celebration for women who choose to focus on career and not have children. As illustrated from the comments of The Mammy, those who make the childless choice are all too often seen as pariahs whose decisions are to be viewed with suspicion and subjected to questioning and (often) harsh derisory judgement.

I’ve encountered this, more than once, enduring comments such as “love yourself too much to have kids, do you?”, “too married to your job to have a life?”, “too selfish to give up your social life for kids, are you?” and “who’s going to take care of you when you get old”?

It appears that The Mammy and her ilk think of the childless choicers as being married to our jobs at the cost of having no personality or “real life” such is the picture of a limited, restricted, sad creature they so pity. It can’t possibly be that we like our work and see it, rather than children, as a way to add value to society and the communities we live in? Rather, those making the childless choice are seen as deeply suspect because we don’t fulfil this most traditional of female roles and are thought to be entirely selfish as a consequence.

To be practical just for a moment, the world’s population, reported only today as likely to reach 7 billion by the end of this month, is hardly in need of additional growth. Thankfully, our future successful existence does not depend on me having children!

Rather, the comment asking who will take care of me when I get old is particularly telling. If the only reason you have kids is to ensure your comfort and care in retirement, I suggest you take a long hard look in the mirror before you call me, or anyone else for that matter, selfish.

The Mammys also seem to think that not having children is purely a result of not being able to have children representing a defect rather than being an active choice in itself. For The Mammys, it would appear that the only valid choice if you were able to have kids, is that you would – why on earth would you not want to? They have, what’s wrong with you?!

So it seems there has emerged a generation of (not entirely, but predominantly) women – The Mammys – who are quite comfortable, even feel it their right indeed, to evaluate the worth of the decision to remain childless against their own personal values, and vocalise quite unashamedly their conclusion in the form of an astonished, pitying, critique.

I can’t help but feel there are very few life choices left in 2011 where it is acceptable to generate such openly negative judgement and fundamental disrespect. It would seem that actively choosing to be childless is, if not the very last, certainly among them, taboo in Irish society.

This is not what feminism envisaged. Freedom of choice for women – the full range of choices – is what feminism has always fought for. Choosing not to have children does not mean that you make less of a contribution to society, you do not become “less” of a person or woman as a result, and certainly, you should not be castigated for making the decision. The Mammys would do well to remember this before feeling sorry for any of us who have made this decision and should perhaps reflect on the fact that the strength of their criticism says more about how easily their own worldview is challenged than it does about anything else. Or, at the very least, The Mammys might keep their views to themselves, especially before coffee on a Monday morning!

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About frimframworld

Total coffee fan, dedicated foodie & news hound. Strategic PR & political comms as a day job. All comments my own - blogging in a personal capacity only.

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4 Comments on “You just have to feel sorry for them, don’t you?”

  1. OracularSpectacular Says:

    Brilliant post. I just stumbles upon it by chance but it’s a great representation of the typical Irish Mammy. While I strongly hope that some day I will have children, Ithink the pressure on women to do so [preferably within 12-18 months of marriage] is ridiculous.

    I find the choice a little strange, but no doubt if you knew me a little better you would find some of my lifestyle choices quite strange. I’m willing to bed that if your husband gets these questions it;s done a lot less pointedly and a lot less often.

    Calling someone selfish for not having children is like calling someone greedy for not having a slice of cake. It makes no sense.

    The one thing I will say is that [once you’ve had your morning coffee and all] don’t let it make you bitter. Feminism, or post-feminism is only finding it’s feet in Ireland now, it’ll beanother generation or several before you see the kind of societal change you’re talking about.


    • frimframworld Says:

      Thanks so much for your comment & glad you liked it – wasn’t sure anyone actually read the posts! I’ve had my coffee and can promise I’m definitely not bitter. Just always curious how easy it is to judge things we don’t understand. Happy reading & thanks again. Caz



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